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Smith was right. Just look at the scoreboard

Alec Swann Columnist

By Alec Swann, Alec Swann is a Roar Expert

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18 Have your say

    “I was a little bit nervous. On another day I might decide to go another way, but we’ve won the Test match, so it’s irrelevant.”

    Take a wild guess at a) who said this and b) what he was referring to.

    Oh go on, it’s not that difficult and there aren’t any prizes for coming up with the correct answer.

    Yes, you’re spot on, it’s a) Steve Smith and b) the Adelaide non follow-on.

    The decision occupied many a journalists’ column and commentator’s thoughts in the immediate aftermath. This only increased in intensity as Joe Root led the England resistance on the fourth evening of the second Test.

    It wasn’t surprising as every time a captain chooses this path, and especially in cases where it seems to be particularly clear-cut, he will be doubted by many on the outside and often compared to someone who has committed a heinous crime.

    Just a pinch of rationality will tell you a lot of this is nonsense, after all, how can you properly judge a decision that manifests itself in the eventual outcome and not what occurs straight away?

    And this is where the final few words of the aforementioned quote from the Australian captain provide the perfect, and in fact the definitive, riposte to any criticism.

    If the hosts had been defeated then Smith would’ve been squarely in the sights as it would’ve been difficult to form an argument which didn’t have Australia batting again as a prime reason for such a result. But the facts state otherwise, they will continue to state otherwise and that is pretty much that.

    If winning the game supersedes everything else then there isn’t a case to answer. Yes, there may have been a few twitchy moments as reviews were squandered, chances grassed, and half the target was scratched off but that is cricket and a 120-run victory is, for all the nerves that Smith alluded to, still comprehensive in manner.

    Steve Smith Usman Khawaja

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    What Smith’s way of operating showed was a continuation of a modern trend that has shied away from the default setting of enforcing the follow-on.

    Where once it almost went without saying that should the target fail to be reached the openers would be padding up for another go, now the fall of the tenth wicket is generally quickly followed by numbers one and two sprinting off for an extra minute to get their gear on.

    A coach I played under when first starting out at Northants was always of the opinion that by batting again you’re handing your opponents an opportunity, however slim, where none should exist.

    This could be applied to Adelaide with a reeling England, who must have expected to bat again with the lights coming on, seeing their chances suddenly rise from the dead, yet Smith wouldn’t have seen it that way.

    Whereas the format I was playing was generally three-day cricket with the odd four-day contest thrown in, with the time obviously more limited for any potential comeback, there were seven sessions remaining when the England first innings was wrapped up. And that, the reasoning would suggest, is ample time for a strong position to become impregnable.

    Add to the melting pot the modern-day theory of not flogging the seam bowlers into the floor – understandable with a five-match series crammed into seven weeks – and it isn’t surprising Root was asked to take his team out to field again.

    Such an approach couldn’t care less for the fact Jimmy Anderson was able to bowl himself into form or Chris Woakes could get a few confidence-boosting wickets under his belt, or even that a couple of the batsmen in need of a score were presented with an awkward assignment that need not have existed.

    The result is king and the result came down in the favour of Australia so as Smith mentioned, all talk is indeed irrelevant.

    Alec Swann
    Alec Swann

    Alec Swann is a former Northants and Lancashire opener turned cricket writer. Outside of the joys of a Test match, Newcastle United and golf generally occupy his other sporting interests with a soft spot for the Newcastle Knights.

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • Columnist

      December 7th 2017 @ 7:21am
      Ryan O'Connell said | December 7th 2017 @ 7:21am | ! Report

      Spot on.

      It was the right decision at the time, and Smith was vindicated by the result.

      End of story.

      • December 7th 2017 @ 8:19am
        Christo the Daddyo said | December 7th 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

        More than that – the performance of the Australian bowlers under lights the following night wasn’t that great. More evidence to back Smith’s decision.

        • Roar Guru

          December 8th 2017 @ 12:49pm
          Rellum said | December 8th 2017 @ 12:49pm | ! Report

          The ball was old by then, different situation to England bowling with a new pill.

          • Roar Guru

            December 9th 2017 @ 8:28am
            Chris Kettlewell said | December 9th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

            Yep, England had a brand new ball under lights, Australia had a 40 over old ball by the time the sun went down. Very different result. The new ball in the afternoon does more than the old ball at night, unless it starts reversing like it did in the NSW v SA shield match where Starc demolished SA for the 8-for

      • Roar Guru

        December 7th 2017 @ 9:51am
        JamesH said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:51am | ! Report

        I can’t help but think that the particular ball England picked had something to do with the exaggerated movement in the third dig. Some balls just go more than others, due to their hand-made nature.

        England weren’t nearly as effective with the new ball under lights on the first night, even though there was a bit of moisture in the air. Yet on day 3 it was hooping around corners. The movement was still there the following morning too, even when the ball was older and the conditions didn’t really suit swing bowling.

        • Roar Guru

          December 9th 2017 @ 8:29am
          Chris Kettlewell said | December 9th 2017 @ 8:29am | ! Report

          England only had the new ball for one over under lights on the first night. Because of the rain, most of that session was the old ball. Only 81 overs bowled on day 1.

          But yes, sometimes one ball just swings more than another.

      • Roar Guru

        December 8th 2017 @ 12:57pm
        Rellum said | December 8th 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

        So if we did enforce the follow on and did win, which was at least as likely, you could have also argued vindication of that decision? I know you can say that is conjecture but we were likely to win that game either way, it was more about burying England mentally.

        To me that was a perfect chance to enforce the follow on, but for those that didn’t what would be an acceptable occasion? Getting them all out for 90 in under 20 overs? It doesn’t sound like a full nights rest would be enough to over come the resting the bowlers position.

        • Roar Guru

          December 9th 2017 @ 8:31am
          Chris Kettlewell said | December 9th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

          Absolutely! But also, if England had managed to get through the session just one or two down and bat the whole next day, then people would be saying that he shouldn’t have enforced the follow on. With hindsight it’s easy to make the call, but either choice had potential risks.

          • December 13th 2017 @ 10:17am
            Pedro The Fisherman said | December 13th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

            Under that scenario Australia would likely have still held a lead (or scores would be close to even) and Australia would have then been taking another new ball under lights. Failing to enforce the follow on gave England an outside chance!

    • December 7th 2017 @ 8:51am
      bigbaz said | December 7th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      I guess it’s not the process it’s the result.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 9:46am
      Worlds Biggest said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      I didn’t mind the call Smith made at the time as our fourth innings chases are not renowned for being good, why not get more runs on the board and put the game out of reach. This is how it played out despite a very poor second innings from Aust ( this created the uncertainty of his decision ) and a defiant middle order chase by England. Ultimately Smith got it right. If another situ like this arises I would like Smith to chat with his bowlers and get there feedback.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 9:54am
      rl said | December 7th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

      enforcing the follow-on and ending the game early is a fairly effective way of getting some rest for your bowlers, no?

      • Columnist

        December 7th 2017 @ 11:15am
        Ryan O'Connell said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:15am | ! Report

        It’s not guaranteed though. Not enforcing the follow on is a guarantee of getting your bowlers rest..

        • December 8th 2017 @ 12:46pm
          TK said | December 8th 2017 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

          And ensuring that the opposition bowlers don’t get a rest.

          • Roar Guru

            December 8th 2017 @ 12:58pm
            Rellum said | December 8th 2017 @ 12:58pm | ! Report

            That had a rest when they were batting, which the whole argument to batting again.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 10:31am
      JohnB said | December 7th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

      If all goes well and Australia bowl as well as England did on the 3rd night, and England are 4 or 5 down for not many at stumps and then rapidly roll over the next day, enforcing the follow on is absolutely the right decision and you won’t have overtaxed your bowlers. But what if everything doesn’t go well (and there’s no guarantee it will)? The bowlers had already bowled for a day. Even if they did lose some wickets in the night session England could still have batted well into day 4 such that the Australians would be in the field for 2 straight days – which is one of the situations where injuries are more of a risk.. There are 3 more tests in this series, and Smith wants his 3 pacemen to play all of them.

      That’s without considering you might want to make the opposition bowl more themselves or that in some cases you may be more reluctant to possibly have to bat last.

      And a factor to consider when talking about what captains in the past might have done – there’s no rest day now.

    • December 7th 2017 @ 11:12am
      Geoff Schaefer said | December 7th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

      The result vindicated the decision. Just as the selectors’ decision to recall Marsh did. What ifs and maybes are just pointless noise…

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